Six-word memoir and; USA’s creative impulses

Six-word memoir

& USA’s creative impulses

State Side, Star on line

An infectious idea about writing a life story in just six words has taken over the American literary landscape.

SEASONS Of Love, the hit song from the long-running Broadway musical Rent, asks a question that has no right or wrong answer: How do you measure the life of a woman or man?

525,600 minutes;

How do you measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee;

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?

How do you measure a year in life?


So the lyrics go.

Now, a New York-based online magazine has dared Americans to sum up their life in six words.

Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to tell a story within that limit and he wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Smith magazine decided to give the idea a fresh twist. Thus the six-word memoir was born and Americans have been hooked ever since.

“We received at least 15,000 contributions,” said senior editor Rachel Fershleiser.

That led to the publication of Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for the past two weeks.

“Everybody wants an opportunity to tell his story. Sometimes, they are just not asked to do so,” Fershleiser said.

Those six-word submissions reflected all sides of humanity.

“It’s funny, it’s sad, it showed that people have a lot of resilience. They revealed their most private moments, how life isn’t what you always expected or planned and yet, things would work out,” she said in an interview.

“In and out of hot water,” is contributor Piper Kerman’s take.

There is always the humour (“Carbohydrates call my name every day”); regrets (“Should have used condom that time”) and love (“Let’s just be friends, she said.” and “Fell in love. Married. Divorced. Repeat.”)

These sixers have become great conversation pieces.

“People talk about it in class, even in eulogies,” said Fershleiser, 28.

One church minister mentioned it in his column in a Canadian newspaper, asking the faithful to ponder about their relationship with God in six words.

Last month, The New York Times solicited the “joy of six” from its readers. Its blog has received more than 400 responses so far.

“More sex would have been nice,” Dan Stackhouse wrote. “Six words? Not sure I can,” went another posting.

Smith, a two-year-old online magazine, has organised book tours in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Austin to enthusiastic response.

It was the same scene on Tuesday when a memoir reading was held at an independent bookstore in New York City’s Nolita neighbourhood.

Contributors gamely shared their mini stories with others.

“I gave up looking for love,” one man said. This was followed by a woman who admitted that “secretly, I dream of my ex-boyfriend”.

Someone in the audience chipped in, trying to play matchmaker: “Have the two of you met?”

Smith magazine, so named because it is the most popular surname in the United States, is a site that celebrates the joy of storytelling. Its tagline: Everyone has a story.

It is now planning a second memoir written by children.

Sarah Morrow, a 23-year-old marketing personnel, knew about the memoir from one of Smith’s editors.

“I love it. It’s short, it makes it easy for people to express themselves,” she said. Her own personal narration? “Climbed mountains, didn’t like the view.”

“It is a reflection of my goals. Once I accomplished them, it didn’t feel as great,” she explained.

So do you have what it takes to say it all in just six words?

“It takes desire, guts; and most of all, you have to be honest,” Fershleiser said.

Sometimes, words are just not enough. Or the less said the better. But for once, this is different. Six words, no more, no less.


Gist of  Six-word memoirs

An infectious idea about writing a life story in just six words has taken over the American literary landscape.

A New York-based online magazine has dared Americans to sum up their life in six words.

Those six-word submissions reflected all sides of humanity.

“It’s funny, it’s sad, it showed that people have a lot of resilience. They revealed their most private moments, how life isn’t what you always expected or planned and yet, things would work out,” she said in an interview.

  • “In and out of hot water,” Piper Kerman.
  • “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Ernest Hemingway.
  • “Carbohydrates call my name every day.”
  • “Should have used condom that time”
  • “Let’s just be friends, she said.”
  • “Fell in love. Married. Divorced. Repeat.”
  • “More sex would have been nice,” Dan Stackhouse wrote.
  • “Six words? Not sure I can.”
  • “I gave up looking for love,” one man said.
  • This was followed by a woman who admitted that “secretly, I dream of my ex-boyfriend”.
  • Someone in the audience chipped in, trying to play matchmaker: “Have the two of you met?”

 “It takes desire, guts; and most of all, you have to be honest,” Fershleiser said.

Sometimes, words are just not enough. Or the less said the better.

But for once, this is different. Six words, no more, no less.

Eroding the racial divide

Eroding the racial divide

Insight Down South, Star on line

Deepening globalisation has generated an ‘us vs them mentality’, compelling the various races to come together and work things out.

FASTER than anything else, globalisation has eroded much of the historical racial divide in Singapore, especially between Chinese and Malays, without eliminating it.

Given its longstanding nature, this scourge is unlikely to disappear any time soon, but the next best thing is happening.

Deepening globalisation has brought in new challenges (as well as benefits) that are compelling the various races to come together to work things out, instead of bickering over petty racial issues.

One perceived threat from the people’s point of view is immigration.

While the large-scale arrival of foreigners – mainly from China and India – has contributed significantly to the overall economy, locals perceive it as a threat that cuts across racial lines.

The strongest resentment against the presence of Chinese mainlanders, for example, has not come from the Malays or Indians, but from local Chinese.

Similarly local-born Indians have hit out against the new arrivals from their former motherland.

Race issues have been replaced by a common feeling that the local population is slowly becoming a minority in its own country as an overwhelming number of foreigners arrives.

To a large extent, this has helped to bond them.

“Its an emotional thing. The foreigners have brought the different races closer together,” a social worker said.

“It’s sort of an us versus them mentality.”

When Singapore’s most dangerous terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from a high-security detention centre, a shocked nation sprung into action to set up an island-wide search.

Joining hordes of security forces were volunteers who spread across residential estates to distribute pamphlets with the picture of the wanted Jemaah Islamiah leader.

Many were Malays, as was the large number of security forces hunting for Mas Selamat.

“This man is a threat to us all because he wants to bomb us irrespective of whether we’re Chinese, Indian or Malay,” explained a middle-aged Malay housewife on television.

This is the latest evidence that race relations in Singapore, particularly between Chinese and Malays, have significantly changed from the violent 60s.

More Malays – like other Singaporeans – are marrying outside their race. Last year three in 10 Muslims did so, compared with only 20% in 1997.

And in a recent survey, 94% of ethnic Chinese undergrads said they would not mind an Indian for a Prime Minister, while 91% would accept a Malay Prime Minister.

This is Singapore’s new generation, born after independence in 1965.

They have no living memory of the deadly race riots of the 60s.

Racial bonding has also another ally – education.

Last week I saw seven teenage students, obviously classmates, two Malays, an Indian and three Chinese, noisily lunching at a fast-food outlet. They were laughing and joking, oblivious of their different backgrounds.

This is actually a normal scene in Singapore schools these days (which still celebrate Racial Harmony Day every year), so common that it arouses little interest.

To an old journalist like me, however, who has lived through the worst of times of Chinese-Malay riots, the whole thing is a minor miracle.

Singapore kids have lived, studied, worked and played together for over 40 years.

To ensure racial and educational immersion, the authorities long ago imposed a rule that forbids neighbourhood schools from catering exclusively to any one race, but makes sure of a proper mix.

The same, too, applies in public housing.

The units of each block of Housing Board flats are apportioned roughly 70% to the Chinese, 16% to Malays and 8% to Indians.

Despite the progress, racial issues still surface even among the best educated.

Three young bloggers were prosecuted for posting racial remarks against Malays.

Two of them were jailed for making seditious remarks and the third sentenced to do work within the Malay community.

This would help him “correct his misguided dislike for Malays”, the judge said.

A shocking eye-opener came last year from – of all people – a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholar studying in the United States, Chuan Chen San, who remarked in his blog: “The Singapore Association (in the campus) has become an Indian association, so gross. And some more (they’re) non-Singaporeans. It’s just so repulsive, these ugly guys with dark skin and irksome features.”

“I still find Indians and Filipinos (dark ones) so repulsive and such a turn-off. Anyway, so now we have this ugly mass as our president (etc).”

The only merit of the case was the universal condemnation by Singaporeans of Chuan, who was criticised in strong terms by almost every one.

More serious are complaints often voiced by Malays and Indians of job discrimination.

These minority job seekers are angry over employers who asked them during interviews if they were proficient in Chinese or whether they could speak Mandarin, even in jobs that require no special language needs.

Landlords, too, frequently display bias against dark-skinned tenants; many of the room-to-let advertisements blatantly rule out Indians.

The government has warned against such racial discrimination and may take action to stop it.

One person is not too optimistic about the possible emergence of a Singaporean identity that is free of racial, language, religious and cultural identities of its people.

The cynic is Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who understands racial problems here better than most.

He said: “The melting pot idea (of throwing in all the races and hoping one day to pull out one people) is idealistic, but not realistic.”

Troubling times

Troubling times

Modified and edited the original comment written By P RAMAKRISHNAN . He is Aliran president and this article first appeared in Aliran Monthly and reprinted in Malaysiakini.

I have edited and adapted to the Myanmar context from the original article P RAMAKRISHNAN . I hope that the P RAMAKRISHNAN  and Aliran  could understand and forgive us for this. They should even be proud that they could contribute a very good article for the fellow Myanmar/Burmese citizens

The silent majority must wake up and take a stand against chauvinistic Myanmar Military who are using race and religion to stir the cauldron. These are troubling times and we have every reason to be troubled. Race and religion seem to be running riot and upsetting the equilibrium of our lives and portending a dangerous future for Myanmar/Burma.

Race and religion can cause discomfort and disquiet. They can be a very potent force that can threaten and shatter our fragile unity, undo our common efforts to live in peace and harmony.

We have witnessed these many months how unscrupulous people have used the issues of race and religion for their selfish ends without any consideration for the welfare of the country.

It is indeed sad that more than half-a-century of nationhood has not produced a common citizenry. We are still compartmentalised into our ethnic identities in so many ways. Whether it is your birth certificate, National Registration card, application forms, registering for an examination, getting married – whatever you do in Myanmar – you are forced to identify yourself along ethnic and religious lines.

It is only when we apply for passports to leave the country that most of us can identify ourself as a Myanmars. But once we return Myanmar, we lose that identity.

We should not be subjected to this moral shame. It is demeaning and undignified that I should leave the country as a Myanmar and return home as an Indian mixed blooded (read migrant).

Why is it so difficult to forge a common nationhood?

Shouldn’t that be the natural consequence of independence?

Wasn’t that the dream of our forefathers that eventually we would evolve into a nation with a common destiny, remaining true to our  Country?

But that was not to be so. Selfish communal politicians and Military leaders made sure that it is in their interest to keep the various races and religions apart. They never stopped stirring the cauldron of hate; they made sure that intolerance and prejudice would be there at all times, smouldering and simmering.

Stirring the cauldron

It was only recently that we witnessed how extreme the situation has become. It was shocking that so much venom was spewed with such impunity in the General Ne Win’s BSPP party convention prior to the formulation of the new Immigration Law, which was termed as ‘the most racially charged Tatmadaw event in years, shocking many people who read the proceedings and the apple-polisher newspaper articles, comments and editorials calling the Burmese Muslims, “Kala dein” or spawns of Indians and “Mi Ma Sit_Pha Ma Sit”, in Burmese meaning BASTARDS.

No one intervened to stop them from expressing so much antagonism, anger and hatred. Nobody chided them for their unbridled tirade. But, on the other hand, there was much cheering and approval for what was said.

Clearly some of the things that were said were without doubt seditious. They had a tendency to inflame emotions and provoke passions.

Actually every human being is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defense of race and religion. Don’t play with fire Tatmadaw leaders. If you mess with our rights, we will mess with yours.

 ‘When tension rises, the blood of Jehadist warriors could run in our veins’. And Burmese Muslims’ thread of driving the cars full with petrol tanks and jerry cans into the Buddhists homes and set the whole city on fire as the revenge had made the Military leaders, agitators and provocateurs to stop their plan to create more anti-Muslim riots.

 ‘Don’t test the patience of the Burmese Muslims and don’t play with fire’.

Japanese Bushido Samurais believe that once ‘You have unsheathed the knife KATANA, you must use it’

It was so bad and shocking that the level of open debate on issues relating to race and religion was worryingly threatening Myanmar Muslims. But it appeared that we were helpless to put a stop to this very damaging rhetoric that had a field day in Myanmar up to the present!

Insensitive, irresponsible

The remarks are intolerably rude, crude and insulting.

The hate-filled sentiments at the assembly, was regrettable and the whole Burma/Myanmar is shrouded in an atmosphere of fiery and emotional sentiments, remarks that were more poisonous and unreasonable.

They could raise issues of race, religion and citizenship. That is every government or leader’s rights. But the Myanmar Military leaders should not attack or hurt the feelings of other communities while highlighting the problems of one particular community…You think it’s very clever, but it hurts people’s feelings…Don’t do anything that will provoke.

The unkind debates over the mixed blooded Kala Deins are the cause for concern for all of us.

But it should not be viewed as if only the Myanmar-Muslims were upset and angry with what transpired Myanmar. A vast majority of well-meaning Burmese, both Buddhists, true monks and non-Muslims, were aghast that the Myanmar Military Junta and Military Intelligence or MI could have descended to such an atrocious level. They were disappointed that a dominant ruling Military Junta leaders could be so insensitive and irresponsible in dehumanising and demonising the fellow Muslim citizens.

Religious ultras, opportunistic politicians

While the racial approach is being played contemptuously, the religious approach is gaining a frightening momentum. It is fanned by the ultra-conservatives and opportunistic Military Generals who are hell-bent on changing the way of life that we have been accustomed to. They have gone into top gear to bring about changes that will ultimately affect all those who disagree with them by denying the very rights that are guaranteed under the old constitution and the late General Aung San.

Knowing that it is Tatmadaw that dictates policies and sets the directions of the country, citizens have cause to worry. Military Junta’s decisions become national policies with no regard for the majority opinion at the national level.

It is difficult to comprehend the reasoning for this uncompromising stand. They proclaim that Islam is in the assault mode on Buddhism but produce no evidence.

We wonder how is it possible to have mature democracies in the uncivilised military dominated Myanmar.

How is it there can be so much tolerance and mutual respect elsewhere that seems to be lacking here?

No problem before

There were no racial problem nor tensions before 1930 when the Bamas used the Nationalistic Spirit against the Indians and Muslims as a smoke-shield to start a revolution against Colonial rulers, British. Actually most of the Burmese Citizens had accepted the, One God, Many Paths, reflecting the viewpoints of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Science.

Since then, things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. It has become so intolerable that what used to be a natural thing as wishing and greeting one another during festive occasions and even visiting houses were abandoned in some towns.

Time to wake up

If we take a careful look at the way things are evolving, it reveals a minority vocal group in influential positions in the Myanmar Tatmadaw and MI who are dictating terms and deciding policies against Muslims of Myanmar. And as long as the majority who disagree with them stay sullen and silent, things will not get better – it will only become worse.

That is why it is necessary for the majority of Burmese to realise that unless we get together and take a common stand against the forces that pose a clear danger to our ethnic relations and harmony, we stand to lose all that we cherish.

Well-meaning people must get involved in this effort all over the country and send forth a clear message that if the present Military Junta leaders do not change, then we must change them for the good of the nation. We must not hesitate but act seriously and bravely.

Let us draw strength and hope from this saying:

‘It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.